OFFICIALS this week blamed a hike in primary school absenteeism figures in 2005-6 on outbreaks of illness and the growth of electronic registers.
Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said the E-coli outbreak in autumn 2005, combined with a bad case of flu at the start of last year, had contributed to the rise. She also said that more state-of-the-art registers, possible after a pound;6 million cash injection from the government, meant data was more accurate.
The new figures, out this week, reveal that 7.5 per cent half-day sessions were missed over the year in Welsh primaries, up from 6.9 per cent on the previous year.
Unauthorised absences went up by 0.2 percentage points for every half-day missed. But schools with 32 per cent or more children entitled to free school meals (FSMs) recorded much higher absence rates, with 9.4 per cent half-day sessions missed. That compares with just 6 per cent of sessions missed by pupils in schools with 8 per cent or below on FSM's.
"I am obviously concerned that absenteeism has risen, but we must bear in mind a number of factors that have contributed to it," said Ms Davidson.